Pioneer Chicken … a wagon full of confusion

One of the many things that confused me about Los Angeles when I first moved here is the Pioneer Chicken.

Pioneer Chicken

I’ve stared at them a lot, they’ve been along most of my commutes for the past 15 years, so you can imagine how much time I’ve spent at intersections during red lights just staring at the sign.

But I’ve never been in one.

luigirisotto.jpgIt’s the sign … it completely confuses me. What is it? It’s a chuckwagon … but the guy on the wagon isn’t old “Cookie”, he looks like a sterotypical Italian chef, kind of like Luigi Risotto from The Simpsons: bald-headed, tall-white-hat-wearing, mustachioed, scarfed and pot-bellied.

But wait, Luigi Risotto is selling pizza … Pioneer Pete is selling … um, well, fried chicken and hot dogs and fish & chips and taquitos and pastrami and who knows what else. (Fast food places that advertise pastrami have always confused me, I understand that it’s LA’s lack of delis that forces pastrami into fast food joints.)

Pioneer Chicken outlets are all but gone. Only five remain in the Los Angeles area where there were once over 80. A switch by the franchisees to Popeye’s gobbled up most locations, except for five that still hobble along untouched by time, fads and rational motifs (two on Sunset). The original is just off Sunset in Echo Park next to the old Pioneer Market (now a Walgreen’s).

I’ve prowled around on Chowhound and found a few threads about the actual food that they serve. It sounds pretty good (and looks pretty good from this commerical I found on YouTube). Maybe I need to stop being such a baby and just go in and try it.

Anyone want to testify to their fried chicken brilliance or congratulate me for being Pioneer Chicken clean?

11 thoughts on “Pioneer Chicken … a wagon full of confusion”

  1. I always thought their chef looked like he was carrying a dead pizza. The chicken is ok, but then again am not a fan of chicken in general but I prefer El Polo Loco or KFC if I’m gonna do the chain thing.

  2. As a native Angelino, I know Pioneer Chicken well.

    Back in the 70s and 80s they were a good fried chicken spot. Along with Church’s Chicken, Pioneer duked it out with the dominant Kentucky Fried Chicken. IIRC, Pioneer and Church’s were a bit cheaper than KFC.

    KFC appears to have won the traditional fried chicken market.

    Of course, the best chicken in LA is at Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles. If you haven’t been there yet, go today. Get a Carol C and Michelob and enjoy.

  3. I totally do not get the love affair that some people (mostly those who have lived in LA most/all of their lives) have with Pioneer Chicken. Like you, I was intensely curious with Pioneer Chicken for quite some time, finally buckling to Pioneer Chicken Mustached Man’s happy smile that promised fantastic chicken one day. We went to the one on Sunset, ordered a meal with a chicken breast and leg, plus some mashed potatoes. The chicken was .. hm, it was like a very thick, chewy, melted, then reconstituted, piece of plastic. To its credit, it did have a fair amount of crunch. And the mashed potatoes were pretty good.

  4. david markland said it — not healthy but friggin delish.

    it might help that i’m a native and loved it as a kid as well.

  5. Super greasy and the batter glowed red-orange, but it was good. Really good corn too. Haven’t eaten there since the late 70s or maybe very early 80s though.

  6. My grandmother’s apartment was next to a Pioneer when I was a child, and I would find any excuse to go in there, sit in the greasy booths and eat corn on the cob. I can still remember exactly what their corn on the cob tastes like, but I draw a complete blank on the chicken.

  7. I’m vegetarian now, but reading this post made me instantly start craving the orange, super crispy batter we used to eat when we were kids.

  8. Great post! My Dad worked for a developer back in the late 70’s/early 80’s that built Pioneer Chickens. My dad was probably the architect on most of the remaining locations, although I’ve never asked him about the remaining locations, they may have been there before he started.

    I was even in a Pioneer Chicken employee training commercial at the young age of 5, playing a young customer. I worked that angle for several years with the ladies, I became an “actor” at that point.

    I don’t remember much about the food, other than I was fasinated by the rolling corn on the cob, spinning in the round pan, drenched in butter.

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